Red Flags During the Tenant Screening Process
1. Prior convictions. This includes any disturbances, DUIs, driving without a license or insurance, or worse. Count all cases, including any that are “dismissed with conditions,” expunged, or similar. You do not want a tenant who has a history of not paying taxes, three DUIs, or unpaid child support. One or two convictions may be okay, depending on the circumstances. But more than two, and you’ve dabbled into the deal breaker zone.
2. Bad references from previous landlord. If you get a bad reference from a landlord, run. Even the most fed up landlords that had problems with the tenant is usually nice enough to still give a good reference (mostly to be able to get them out of their property). So when a previous landlord gives a bad reference run, don’t walk.
3. Looking to move suspiciously fast. If your tenant applicant needs a place right away, it could be a bad sign. There are always legitimate reasons for needing to move in a rush, but be sure to ask for an explanation—in person, if you can. When you ask questions like this in person, you can get a good indication whether or not the individual is being genuine or not.
4. Poor credit. A bad credit score is a deal breaker in itself alone. There are times where a lower score than desired can be explained. Perhaps there was time a few years ago where the prospective tenant was laid off, and he missed a payment or two. Use your best judgment to determine whether or not a few missed payments, or black mark, were justifiable.
5. Prior eviction. Even if they were evicted unjustly, it is still likely not to take the risk. You may have to wait a little longer to find a tenant, but you’ll sleep better at night.
6. Low income. You should look for a minimum income of at least 2.5 to 3 times the monthly rent. If your tenant makes $3,000 a month and your rent is $1,800 this is probably not the right tenant for you.
7. Criminal history. Self-explanatory.
8. Inability to complete rental application. This can be a red flag, depending on which areas they leave blank. For example, if they “forgot” their social security number, or “can’t remember” the name of their last employer.
9. The applicant is needy, demanding. If your very first interactions with this tenant leave you drained, consider what they will be like when they move in. You don’t want a controlling tenant.
10. Defiancy. If you smell cigarette smoke on a prospective tenant who is moving into a non-smoking unit, think twice. They may sincerely not smoke in your unit; however, a cigarette doesn’t need to be lit inside of the house for the house to smell of smoke. Decide which personal habits in a tenant you can tolerate, and which ones you won’t.
11. Jop hopper. If they change jobs too often, they are a risk. Try to find a stable tenant that has had the same job for at least a year.
How to screen tenants to make sure you find the perfect candidate for your property: